Kosovo: Norwegian envoy to head UN probe into March violence

Kofi Annan

11 June 2004 – United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway to investigate the wave of ethnic violence that roiled Kosovo in mid-March, leaving 19 people dead, hundreds injured and many homes and Serbian religious and cultural sites damaged or destroyed.

Ambassador Eide has been tasked with probing the political implications of the violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs and recommending ways in which the province’s residents can live together again peacefully.

The appointment of an investigator follows a pledge made in April by Mr. Annan in his regular report to the Security Council on the work of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

In that report, Mr. Annan said “the onslaught led by Kosovo Albanian extremists against the Serb, Roma and Ashkali communities of Kosovo was an organized, widespread, and targeted campaign.”

At least 3,000 people, mostly Serbs, were driven from their homes or had to evacuate them during two days of riots and attacks starting 17 March. The violence followed the drowning deaths of three Albanian children a day earlier.

UNMIK described the violence as some of the worst since it took control of the province in June 1999, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drove Yugoslav troops out amid fighting between the Albanian and Serbian communities. Kosovo’s permanent future status remains yet to be determined.

Ambassador Eide and a team of aides are expected to begin work on the inquiry in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, next week.

Meanwhile, Harri Holkeri, the outgoing head of UNMIK and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, yesterday described the March violence as “a big setback” as he looked back on his 10 months of service in the province.

In a farewell press conference following his resignation last month, Mr. Holkeri warned “there may still be difficult days ahead” as some people try to undermine peace efforts and called on the people of Kosovo to “reject extremism, reject division, and listen to their responsible leaders.”

At the same time, he noted that much progress had been achieved before the recent clashes. “Kosovo had no functioning institutions when the UN arrived here [in 1999], but, since then, three elections have been organized and Kosovo now has a functioning government and an elected assembly.”

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